Once Again, Re-raising The Question About US Presence in Syria
Reem Issa Reem Issa

Once Again, Re-raising The Question About US Presence in Syria

US House of Representatives member Matt Gaetz introduced on February 21 a bill pursuant to the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The brief bill states that “Congress directs the President to remove the United States Armed Forces from Syria by not later than the date that is 15 days after the date of the adoption of this concurrent resolution”. Later, on March 1, Gaetz introduced a modified copy of the bill, in which the period was changed from 15 days to 180 days. The bill is still in the early stages, where it has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and it has not yet been put to vote.

It is worth mentioning that pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, the House of Representatives has to vote on the bill introduced by Gaetz within 18 days after it is introduced. It is expected that there will be a vote on the bill within the next week. However, amid all that is going on today, why has the issue of US presence in Syria been raised again?


A quick overview of Matt Gaetz

It is worth noting that Matt Gaetz, a Republican, has served as a representative for a district in Florida since January 2017. While Gaetz self-identifies as a “libertarian populist”, political commentators in the US describe him as being “far right”. Additionally, Gaetz is considered to be in the “Trump” current within the Republican Party; he was one of the 60 representatives who voted in October 2019 against a bill titled: “Opposing the decision to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria”, which was an implicitly a bill condemning Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria (note: the bill passed by the House, but never passed by the Senate).


What is US media saying about the matter?

Firstly, Gaetz published on his official website a press release on February 22 regarding the bill he introduced. He said in the press release that he introduced the bill “following a February 17th press release from U.S. Central Command, which announced four U.S. servicemembers were wounded during a partnered U.S. and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) helicopter raid in northeastern Syria, ultimately killing a senior ISIS leader”. He added that “the US Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war”. Regarding that, Gaetz said: “Congress has never authorized the use of military force in Syria. The United States is currently not in a war with or against Syria, so why are we conducting dangerous military operations there? President Biden must remove all U.S. Armed Forces from Syria. America First means actually putting the people of our country first — not the interests of the Military Industrial Complex”.

About Biden, Gaetz said in the press release that “mounting concerns continue to signal that President Biden himself does not have a cognitive grasp on the Syrian conflict”, and he pointed out that “during an August 2021 interview… President Biden stated, “we don’t have military in Syria to make sure that we’re going to be protected.” At the time of the interview, the United States had an estimate of 900 troops in Syria”.

Fox News – which is considered one of the most important media outlets expressing the point of view of conservatives in the US, is clearly biased to the Republicans and against the Democrats, it also is heavily biased to “Israel” and blatantly against the Palestinian issue, Arabs, and Muslims, and remains one of the pro-Trump media outlets – hosted Gaetz about the topic on February 22. In the article published about the interview, Fox News repeated most of what the abovementioned press release said, in addition to focusing on that the bill aims to “force members of Congress to vote on record regarding whether they think we ought to continue Obama’s was in Syria. President Obama kicked off our involvement… and now we still find ourselves in the middle of a Syrian civil war with Russia and Turkey and Iran, all present in a very confined neighborhood”. He added: “we ought to ask ourselves, ‘Do we really want to continue the Obama-era policy of engaging in a Syrian civil war?’ I don’t think we should”. He also said: “this resolution will test who is truly adherent to what I believe is America First Foreign Policy and who continues to believe in Middle Eastern adventurism”.

It is worth mentioning that this issue did not get a lot of media coverage, particularly by major media and news outlets in the US, except for Fox News. For example, the issue was not at all mentioned by media outlets considered more pro-Democratic Party, like CNN and MSNBC. Even major newspapers in the US did not mention the issue, and media coverage was limited to smaller outlets barely on the map and known to be conservative.

It should be also noted that what got a lot of coverage by US and Western media was the surprise and unannounced visit by the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, on Saturday, March 4, while he was in the region, specifically in the Zionist entity. According to Reuters, Milley appeared unannounced at a US base in northeastern Syria and met with US troops there. In response to reporters as to whether he believes the deployment of nearly 900 US troops to Syria was worth the risk, “Milley tied the mission to the security of the United States and its allies, saying: ‘If you think that that’s important, then the answer is ‘Yes’.”

In response to this visit, Gaetz posted on his Twitter account: “General Mark Milley has traveled to Syria to justify America’s continued involvement in a Middle Eastern civil war. Jeffersonian Democracies cannot be built out of sand and blood and Arab militias alone. Syria is a quagmire of a tinderbox. America has no discernible interest in continuing to fund a fight where alliances shift faster than the desert sands…. If General Milley wants this was so bad, he should explain what we are fighting for and why it is worth American treasure and blood”.


What does all this mean?

The existence of two different trends – at least externally and in the media – in the US regarding the American military presence in Syria is not new. This is something that Kassioun has touched on previously, including in a November 2022 article. One of the points highlighted by the article was that although the two trends seem to be contradictory, nevertheless “it should be noted that… the issue of reaching a political solution and change in Syria is not only off the priorities’ list, but it is nearly overtly on the list of taboos, which are things that harm US national security”, as the two “agree that ‘Israel’ needs to continue having the ability in sabotaging the entire region, and Syria in particular. They also agree on the need to keep some form of a de facto division of Syria. All of these are goals that cannot be achieved if Syria proceeds towards a comprehensive political solution on the basis of UNSC Resolution 2254”.

In essence, this trend and implicit agreement on Syria and the political solution has not changed in US policies and will not change, and there is no disagreement or division about it. This is consistent with what Kassioun has previously concluded with regards to US policy towards Syria, regardless of which of the two parties is living in the White House or which one has the majority in Congress. What is important to read any information about what is said about Syria by any side in the US, is what has been said in a February 2021 Kassioun article, after Biden took over as president:

 “‘The lack of a clear policy’ means one thing only, which is the continuation of the previous policy that was in place during the Trump era. That is, the continuation of the “stalemate is stability” and the “quagmire” policies…. Those who draw the detailed policies on Syria within the American power establishment did not actually change with the change of administration, and even a large part of those who execute the policies did not change either. Both of those are the same policymakers who have been responsible for the Syria file since Obama’s presidency, and have the same strategic goal direction: At most, attempting to use Syria as the spark to detonate the entire region, with the hopes that the explosion reaches the rising international opponent countries, or at a minimum making Syria a quagmire in which these rising powers drown…. Among the interpretations of what is being described as ambiguity in US policy towards Syria, is that it is an intentionally “ambiguous” policy so that it is adaptable to the great possibilities of change in the event international consensus is reached. This possibility cannot be denied, but certainly we cannot rely on and wait for an American change”.

Therefore, the bill introduced by Gaetz – whether adopted or not – most likely falls under the attempts to use the American military presence in Syria within the ongoing work that is intensifying with regards to preparations for the upcoming US elections in November 2024. This is not limited to only the Republican-Democratic race, but also within the Republican Party itself, which now has several currents, the most prominent of which is the “Trumpian” one, which is working on getting Trump back to the White House.

As for US presence in Syria, there are definitely increasing pressure that make it an easy tool to use in this type of internal battles. However, US’s exit from Syria and the region is no longer an American decision – regardless of whether a bill like this is passed or implemented by Congress or the US President – but is rather a necessity and reality, both of which are being implemented by virtue of the ongoing changes in the international balance. There are various manifestations of that at the international and regional levels, and in all the dossiers, including those related to Syria. The most prominent example of that is the Syrian-Turkish settlement, which is underway, and within the efforts put forth towards the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254, something that Washington has been and continue to try obstructing with all the means and tools at its disposal.

(Arabic version)